In India, we celebrate a lot of festivals. We celebrate so many festivals that at times it is difficult to keep count of what we're really celebrating. Different people look at this differently. For school kids, it means plenty of holidays. For their teachers, it means less time to complete the syllabus. For employees, it means a day away from work. For their employers, it means a drop in productivity.
But there is one festival that really stands out in a calendar year. For years, I've been told it's the “festival of lights” but that isn't an accurate description of what it is any more. I'm,of course, talking about Diwali.
The story is familiar to everyone. (For those who aren't familiar with it, there's a VERY concise version here : The Diwali Story).
Diwali is, like almost all other festivals, a time to celebrate. And at least for as long as I can remember, it is also the time when environmentalists everywhere feel like they have the most hopeless job in the world.
In school, one of my favourite things was to write essays in English class. Every year, the day before Diwali, we'd be asked to write an essay on diwali. And almost everyone's essay would go something like “Deepavali is the festival of lights. We wear new clothes, light lamps, exchange sweets and burst firecrackers.”
My essay, on paper, used to be more or less the same too. But in my head, my essay went something like “Diwali is the festival of lights and we burst crackers and then we burst crackers and then some more crackers and then we take the black powder out of all the crackers and make it into a heap and add paper bits to it and set fire to it and make it into a bonfire. And then we wake up the next morning and burst all the remaining crackers”.
It used to be the most fun thing to look forward to every year.
But that was when I was young and stupid. Fully grown adults around me would tell me on 361 days a year that we must save the environment and that we must not litter the streets and so on. But almost every single one of them would have a major personality change for the 2 or 3 days on which diwali is celebrated. You could see them in the thick of action, teaching young kids how to light crackers. The following morning, walking through the streets lined with the small paper pieces that wrapped the crackers, they'd complain about how horrible lighting firecrackers is. For a 10 year old, actions speak much louder than words. At that stage of their lives, they're no more than impressionable monkeys. They'll imitate everything an older person around them does. And when they see that there's some sadistic joy that can be derived from blowing up stuff, they'll do it more.
But that's basically where the criticism of the kids ends. If I stepped out on the streets today and convinced the kids celebrating diwali not to do it, they'll stop. And then the moment my shadow leaves their territory, they'll start again. Kids don't look for reason. They look for examples. And as long as adults don't set that example, you can't blame the kids.
So for the grown-ups, this is an issue they must not take lightly. Pro-environment groups have tried all sorts of campaigns to dissuade the use of fireworks. They've all fallen on deaf ears. What people fail to understand is that if you carry on mindlessly bursting crackers, “falling on deaf ears” won't be a metaphor any more.You'll actually go deaf. And if not you, someone will. And if that doesn't bother you, evolution must've messed up somewhere.
Every year, the day after diwali, newspapers print air pollution statistics about how much more pollution this festival caused. Turn to the next page and there'll be a story about how young kids working at a fireworks factory in Sivakasi died from poisoning.
But these are all things everyone knows. And yet it seems, no one can resist the lure of diwali.
If you go back to the start of this article and read it once more, there are a few points that are crucial to show how much the concept of diwali has changed and where the problem lies.
- Diwali isn't the festival of lights. It is a mad day when people gather to burn crackers that produce more smoke and sound than light. The retort I get most often to that fact is “If you don't like it, don't celebrate it. Don't ask us to stop”. Unfortunately, you're not celebrating this on TV. I can't just change the channel. Every ounce of smoke that you create, adamantly insists on floating around in this thing called the atmosphere and my lungs, apparently, can not survive without inhaling air from this atmosphere. Of course, I could just leave town for 3 days and come back after diwali but I'd be guilty of not making you feel guilty if I did that. So NO. I won't do that.
- On this day, environmentalists feel like they have the most hopeless job in the world. That's because they do. They work religiously all year to make the world a better place for us to live in and for 3 days, the entire country gangs up against them simultaneously in one big Thank you-for-letting-us-do-this-by-cleaning-up-our-dirty-act-from-last-year.and-the-year-before-last-and-the-one-before-that gesture.
- Kids don't really understand the meaning of diwali. They don't care. Society has trained their minds to enjoy this craziness.
- Remember those adults I spoke of earlier? The ones you could see in the thick of action, teaching kids to light crackers? You can't see them any more. That's not because they've stopped. It's because there is too much smoke to see anyone or anything.
- I feel bad for criticizing the kids. It sounds like I'm one of those guys that has had my fun by celebrating it for 3-4 years but now that I'm done, I'm sucking the joy out of their lives. But the truth is, I'm better off without the crackers. So are they.
- There are actually things called “Pro-environment groups” . That must mean that there are “anti-environment groups”. And trust me, we are all members of that society. If you're annoyed by the extreme views of the pro-environment group, quit the anti-environment brigade.Oscar Wilde said “We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”. We do. We really do.
I'm probably already too late with this post but here's a humble request. I'm not asking you to stop celebrating diwali.
I'm asking you to teach one adult and one kid how to celebrate diwali without the crackers. Eat some sweets. Go out for dinner. Trust me, you'll feel awesome eating good food with the money you would've otherwise burnt, Literally.
Light a lamp. Light 10 lamps! Take a picture of it, add those annoying filters and put it on instagram or twitter or facebook or where ever you want with the hashtag #JustSavedTheWorld.
Oscar Wilde wasn't wrong very often. But I'm sure he'd appreciate it if we proved him wrong in this case.
Don't be a devil. Be a hero. Always be a hero.
Stay Safe! Stay informed!